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Friday, November 30, 2012
Saddle Up: More Big East/SEC fun

By Eamonn Brennan

Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It got back from South Bend pretty late last night.

No. 6 Syracuse at Arkansas, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: Syracuse fans are a bit picky about the way you discuss their team's schedule. In particular, they don't like it intimated that Syracuse plays only home games before the start of Big East play, and you can understand why Orange fans would get tweaked at hearing this meme over and over again, regardless of whether it actually rings true.

So I won't call this a "rare nonconference road game for Syracuse" because A) The Troy Nunes guys would definitely make fun of me and B) at this point, rare is the elite program that goes on the road all that often anyway. Besides, Syracuse already played San Diego State in San Diego -- albeit on a wind-lapped aircraft carrier, which was hardly a home game for the Aztecs.

The point is, it would be easy to say something like "Syracuse's game at Arkansas is a real test on the road for an impressive new-look Orange team," and that is at least partially true. It will be interesting to see Michael Carter-Williams play in prime time and see coach Jim Boeheim's rangy forwards work that 2-3 zone and contribute efficient offense on the other end.

But I'm not worried about Syracuse. Syracuse is good. I'm more interested in Arkansas, a team with NBA talent (gifted scorer BJ Young) in its backcourt and a host of intriguing complementary pieces that can't seem to guard anybody.

Last week, Arkansas lost 83-68 to Arizona State and 77-70 to Wisconsin. In the ASU loss, the Razorbacks allowed the Sun Devils to post a 63.0 effective field goal percentage and let them get to the line on 72 percent of available possessions. It's early, small sample size, etc., etc., but the Razorbacks are one of those weird, quasi-preseason sleeper teams that trick us because they look like they should be much better than they are.

To date, at least. Maybe a home game in Fayetteville against a top team is what Arkansas needs to discover the importance of lockdown defense. Or maybe we'll get a shootout. If it isn't one of those two, Syracuse, with one of the nation's best defenses to date, might look very much at home on the road after all.

Tennessee at No. 20 Georgetown, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: When Georgetown beat then-No. 11 UCLA and took No. 1 Indiana to overtime in the Legends Classic on back-to-back nights, it quickly established its reputation this season as a team to be reckoned with -- a long, athletic, well-drilled trademark John Thompson III squad with a national player of the year candidate, sophomore forward Otto Porter, leading the way.

That's all true. But that's not to say Georgetown doesn't have some flaws. To date, the Hoyas have not rebounded their misses with anything like the regularity they did last season (ranked No. 313 in the country in offensive board rate), to name one example. Georgetown is not quite as big in the middle as in recent seasons -- no Henry Sims, Greg Monroe or Roy Hibbert here -- which means the Hoyas could end up relying on the 6-foot-8 Porter not only for scoring and defense but also for offensive glasswork.

This will be especially worth watching against Tennessee, because the Volunteers have a very good low-post threat in beastly sophomore forward Jarnell Stokes.

But the Vols are also hobbled down low. Jeronne Maymon continues to miss time after suffering what coach Cuonzo Martin called a setback to Maymon's recovery from offseason knee issues. It's been clear that Tennessee misses Maymon's bruising low-post style, his ability to draw fouls (a six fouls per 40 rate, no less) and the physical pressure he drew away from Stokes. Together, that tandem is a handful for opposing frontcourts. Without one or the other, as when before Stokes joined the team in December last season, it just looks OK.

Everywhere else: On Monday, Jeff Withey did something pretty awesome; he became the second player in Kansas history to record a triple-double, with 16 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks. Oregon State will travel to Kansas City, Mo., to get some of that Friday night. It is hard to imagine the Beavers, which appear to be better, with a win over Purdue and a three-point loss to Alabama on a neutral floor, not taking one on the chin. … Georgia plays at South Florida. Please keep this game out of view of children and small pets. (OK, it won't be that bad, but there won't be much offense.) … DePaul plays at Auburn, and yeah, you can cover your eyes for that too.

Still, though, we've got some good college hoops on a Friday night. We'll take it, right?